Good Manners Still Stylish

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Bad manners and a lack of etiquette are epidemic – in business and personally. Articles all over the Internet rant about rude service personnel, oblivious drivers, and don’t even get me started about hog-like eating styles. Yes, we are all in a hurry these days, but it only takes a second to say please, thank you, and excuse me. Not to mention covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze. Or cough.

I once heard one of my students sniping that manners were created by the elite to keep the masses from rising in social status. He thought they were out of date and stupid. Where they came from and how far back in time they were developed is beside the point. Good manners show respect for others. They are a form of civil interaction between strangers and friends. They give structure to society. And they some have health benefits (such as not passing disease -- see sneezing and coughing above).

About 12,000 years ago mankind grunted and threw stones at each other, then slowly we learned to work together and then communicate. Communication allowed man to think and develop structure. From structure grew civilization. Manners and etiquette are rituals developed over time that makes social interaction easier and more orderly.

Under the reign of Louis XIV (he’s the one history calls the Sun King) there were lots of parties. He’d have these massive dinners with many of his courtiers. Yes, these were rich people. During that time the way to power in the government was to show up to these parties dressed up in these big poufy dresses and floppy men’s coats – called frock coats -- which took up a lot of room. As did the elaborate wigs and headdresses. When everyone sat down to dinner eating got kind of messy with all the lace and feathers and what not. Louis XIV developed a rigid system of eating that kept elbows off the table and massive headdresses out of the candelabras placed in the middle of the table so everyone could see what they were eating. Because he was king and everyone was trying to get on his good side, diners at these big parties followed his lead. Fewer people went screaming out of the dinner party with their massive wigs on fire (yep, it happened). These rules still make it easier to work together to get food to everyone sharing a table without much confusion. He was a bright man (pun intended).

Rules of the road are there for the same reason; to make traffic move more smoothly. When everyone follows the rules and lets other people know what they are going to do on the freeway by using their blinker, then there are less accidents, confusion, and road rage. And when you are done using it, please turn your blinker off. If you are merging onto the freeway, hopefully with your blinker on, you need to speed up, NOT slow down. I could go on forever about driving stuff, but that will have to be another post.

My pet peeve I am leaving for last. It is what I call customer rage. I feel it every time I am ignored or treated as if the sales associate is doing me a big favor by helping me. Trust me, I have a closet stuffed full of clothes and a house full of furniture. They are not doing me a favor. By purchasing merchandise in their store I am paying their salaries so they can buy those iPhones they are addicted to. Once upon a time I worked in the world of retail and the world of food service. Treating customers well and remembering their tastes goes a long way.

I have a particular addiction to World Market. I have a favorite store. I know the managers there. They know me. I have spent thousands of dollars in their store. I have sent friends into their stores who would not have gone otherwise. They treat me very well. I have a World Market that is closer to my home, but I will go out of my way to go to my favorite one, even though I no longer work close to it, because they have been very good to me. Their sales people are always helpful and friendly. I have never been ignored or treated rudely in that store.

There is another chain of stores, which will remain nameless here, where I only go when I absolutely have to. Even when it is much cheaper. I feel like I could die in one of these stores, and my rotting body would have to be in there a week, before anyone would notice me. I’m not the only one who likes good old-fashioned service. With a smile. And courtesy. And manners. Like a thank you for shopping there. With real feeling behind the words.

Manners and etiquette do make a difference. My student who was ranting about all these rules of conduct being out of date and unnecessary finally decided to try some. His comment after applying what he was taught, “you know, you are right, people treated me different once I started saying please and thank you and doing all that stuff you told us about. They were nice to me!” Wow, what a surprise.

Lee Rennick is a freelance writer, former Vice-President of Marketing and past Executive Director of the Business Education Foundation of Rutherford County, TN. She shares her interests and knowledge about working, learning and living at During her ten years as the coordinator of State Farm Summer Business Camp and Youth Leadership Rutherford she made sure her students learned a few things about etiquette, which has kept her mother from rolling around in her grave. 

Photos from MorgueFile: Man in suit (elsiehamilton), silverware (priyanphoenix), thankyousign (quicksandala)

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